Volker von Prittwitz

Foreign Policy in the World Society

Territorial Integrity Self Determination Cooperation

In the recent Caucasus conflict competing claims to power clash. The Russian side on the one hand and US dominated NATO on the other hand strengthen their conflict views in the way potential enemies are encountering. The result is a risky, in any case extremely unproductive confrontation. Instead of developing a global political architecture that allows to qualify and master security problems according to common principles, the involved actors fall back into patterns that seemed to be overcome for decades. Not global welfare aims, such as economic development, reduction of poverty or an effective climate change policy, do shape the mutual relations; rather jostling about territorial power and military strength is dominating the scene.

In this situation it is remarkable how easily, in fact even enthusiastically governements of several EU member states jump onto the bandwagon apparently running into the familiar world of Cold War. And it surprises that up to now a decisive political opposition against this trend is missing. A reason for that might be the fact that some actors, so the German chancler, have won political renommee in the past and, therefore, its hard to personally criticize them. Furthermore central concepts used by the involved political actors have not been critically discussed until now. The most significant concept of this kind is Territorial Integrity.


Territorial Integrity

According to some speakers of NATO countries, the fact that Russia has acknowledged the independence of Abkhazia and South-Ossetia violates the territorial integrity of Georgia. They consider this act to be in conflict with international law and therefore to be unacceptable.

In contemporary history, the concept of territorial integrity has been formed by efforts to come to a political detente during the cold war, so in the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Helsinki Final Act, published in 1975, included the principle of territorial integrity as fourth principle of ten. This principle, it is true, was implicitly directed against violent interventions by the Warshaw Pact according to the intervention in Chechoslovacia 1969. It was framed, however, through some other principles, such as the principle of souvereign equality and the unviolability of frontiers. Territorial integrity, hence,  was an element of a negotiated comprehensive order where all involved states, including totalitarian states, were equated in order to preserve the sensible balance of power.

After the Soviet Union and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) had broken down, this security architecture lost its basic significance. Meanwhile the principle of territorial integrity can also be activated regardless of other principles even by small countries  accordingly just small countries, such as Georgia, Estonia or Ukraine, try to use it. However in terms of the principle still any territorial state, regardless of its internal order, is proclaimed to be souvereign and worth to be protected against interventions. This interpretation, that can be traced back to Bodins principle of absolute souvereignty, i.e. to the times of absolutism, meanwhile has not only been proclaimed by small aggressive countries like Georgia, but also by large powerful autocratic countries. For example China tried to block criticism of its forceful politics against Tibet by referring to the principle of territorial integrity. 

Corresponding with this ambivalence, since the 1990s political actors have dealt with the concept to an increasing degree as they wanted. So some actor groups around the United States, such as the NATO countries, the Anti Irak Coalition in the beginning 1990s, the western countries fighting in Afghanistan or the group of the willing in the second Irak War, simply repealed the concept in some cases, such as Serbia/Kosovo, Irak, Afghanistan, and forced political changes according to their will. Now when Russia is forcing changes in its backyard - the association with the traditional behaviour of the United States in Middle America is suggesting itself -, the NATO countries unisono and loudly proclaim this behaviour to be an unacceptable breaking of international law - an obvious contradiction that Russian representatives enjoy presenting in public again and again.

In view of this double ambivalence (regarding the concepts' content as well as regarding the way political actors deal with it), referring to nothing but territorial integrity appears to be politically comfortable. However, there is a price to be payed, miscommunication and confrontation as we experience it now.


The Right of Self-Determination

Orientating oneself by nothing but the criterion of territorial integrity seems to be problematic also for another reason: After the end of the east-west conflict, new social and political capacities have developed that should be regarded of their own. So the will of the people is getting significance not only in established democracies but also in processes of state buildung. The right of peoples self-determination, it is true, has been formally declared in the UN Human Rights Charta; not before the end of the east-west conflict, however, it has started to become a reality: Already the fact that die GDR could peacefully join West Germany was a breakthrough. Also the fact that Slovakia could peacefully detach from Chechia - as well as other countries around the former Soviet Union could do - belongs to this story. The declaration of independence of Kosovo was not only a NATOs stroke towards Russia; it was an enormous progress in terms of democratisation, too. Because the overwhelming portion of the people in the Kosovo nowadays is albanian that tried hard to get independent. The dances of joy in Abkhasia and South-Ossetia after Russia had formally acknowledged their (since long declared) independence should be similarly interpreted.

If leading democratic politicians speak with regarding to those events of nothing but of broken international law, it is, let's say thick-skinned. According to criteria of democracy and open society it is scandalous. Power politics, it is true, has to be soberly analyzed according to its potentials of instrumentalization. However, if the free will to self-determination of hundreds of thousands or millions of people is able to assert itself, this is a huge progress. Russia, a political system between democracy and autocracy, it is true, has not tried consciously to pave the way for democracy; rather, it was about its own renommee and power. But the Russian policy towards Abkhasia and South-Ossetia will strenghen movements of independence insofar as the right of self-determination has come on the political agenda. Insofar - and only insofar - we can speak of an processual opportunity for democratization.


Cooperation in the Forming World Society

During the east-west conflict, the concept of territorial integrity, together with other even more important principles, pointed at avoiding war. Meanwhile it has lost this function because the involved actors interprete the principle differently with the consequence that miscommunication and military confrontation come into existence.

In view of this fact the principle of territorial integrity should be respected, but also relativized. Instead of sliding into a new east-west confrontation, the involved actors should, using their full power and prudence, try to come to global as well as to regional forms of cooperation.

Capacities that may foster this political approach are clear tendencies towards forming a world society - see the increasing economic, social, technical, and cultural interweaving (including sport). Finally see approaches of coping with global problems, such as global climate change, problems of world trade and global and regional security problems, based on UN institutions. In other words, meanwhile globalization processes exceed isolated problematic processes of globalization.

In a world of dense relations, to exclude warfare becomes of existential significance. Aside of this, it is about how to recognize, to use and to develop capacities of global welfare. In order to pursue these goals, primitive patterns of power politics and confrontation have to be overcome. Here, the European Union, meanwhile a model of peaceful interior cooperation, has a particular responsibility. 


The author: Prof. Dr. Volker von Prittwitz, Free University Berlin